what we do
Our Endorsement Process
Identifying talent is a critical focus of Ascend's work, and we go through a painstaking process to find candidates we believe have the talent and capacity to go far in politics. We start with weeks of sourcing, where we speak with dozens of thought leaders on the ground in each state we're engaged in -- organizational leaders, activists, current and former elected officials, etc. These include formal advisors in each state, as well as many others. Our goal is to find individuals who have stood out in their communities: leaders who have shown a commitment to service and an ability to get things done.
We take all of those recommendations and invite a set of candidates to apply online, a fairly rigorous application that helps us to understand them both as candidates and as individuals. Based on their responses, we invite a limited number of candidates to interview -- along with their campaign managers -- and we supplement these interviews with calls to references we have asked them to provide. Based on all of that, we select a subset of those candidates to endorse.
Our Target States
Since launching in 2017, Ascend has expanded from our initial target states of Virginia and Texas to now include Pennsylvania (added in 2018) and Wisconsin (added in 2019). We have selected these states based on the criteria outlined below. While states have more elections in some years than others, we follow an approach of "every state, every year" -- meaning we invest in candidates in each of our states every year. This approach enables us to maintain strong and current relationships with dozens of opinion leaders across each state who we engage to learn about up-and-coming candidates. It also underscores our long-term commitment to the states we invest in.
We have several criteria that have driven the selection of our states. We focus on states:
1) A sufficient candidate pool. We invest in states in which there is a critical mass of elections and hence a critical mass of candidates to choose from (in 2017, for example, many states did not have a significant number of elections).
2) A chance to pick up seats. We focus on states that are battlegrounds or emerging battlegrounds, so we are more likely to engage in races where we are supporting a Democrat against a Republican vs. against a fellow Democrat.
3) A focus on spending on candidates vs. compliance. We take seriously our responsibility to spend our investors' money wisely, and hence early on, we're focusing on states where the campaign finance laws are relatively less burdensome, such that we can spend more money supporting candidates and less money on legal and compliance costs.
A Timeline of Our Growth
2017-2018 Building the Foundation
2017: Launched in late spring 2017, we spent the 6 months leading up to November's elections building our infrastructure and establishing our model. Specifically:
Building the infrastructure: We formally incorporated, launched our web site, and began establishing our approach to identification and selection of candidates. We recruited dozens of Investors (individuals who committed to donate/raise $2,500 - $10,000/year) and raised nearly $75,000 to fund start-up and operating costs and support our first set of candidates.
Establishing operations in Texas and Virginia: We selected Texas and Virginia as our initial 2 states. We launched Advisory Boards in each state and selected, endorsed, and funded 12 candidates (8 of whom won).
2018: During the course of 2018, we continued to expand our operations and impact, while also continuing the lay the foundation for a sustainable organization.
Expanding our impact: We significantly increased our fundraising from 2017, ending the cycle with over 50 Investors who've raised or donated $2,500 or more, and far more than doubling our total raised to nearly $190,000. We continued to invest in Texas and Virginia, and expanded to a third state of Pennsylvania, supporting 26 candidates and again winning just shy of 2/3 of our races.
Continuing to build the infrastructure: We also established our Ascend Partner Network that consists of more than two dozen state and national organizations we work with to identify and support up-and-coming Democratic candidates. As we begin to focus more and more on not just providing and launching pad for candidates, but also providing introductions to other resources to help them succeed over the long-term, this will become a particularly important part of our work.
2019: We're thrilled at our growth and impact thus far, and as we enter 2019, we're excited to continue on this path.
Moving into another battleground: We've expanded to a fourth state while doubling down on fundraising, growing slowly and sustainably to support candidates in our 4 states of Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Growing steadily and intentionally: We hired Hannah Roe Beck, our first-ever staff person, in January 2019. We opened our first office in July 2019, and we brought on a team of six summer interns to help sustain and support our continued growth.
Making History: We celebrated a major benchmark: giving over $250,000 throughout our history!